Congress must get pharma out of NAFTA 2.0
Donald Trump ran for president on a promise to lower prescription drug prices. He railed against prescription drug corporations, even saying that they are “getting away with murder.” This was smart politics, given that Americans of all political stripes overwhelmingly support far-reaching government action to curb pharma monopolies and lower drug prices.
But Trump’s actions once in office tell a very different story. Only a few weeks after taking office, Trump met with pharma CEOs, and promised them that “we’re going to be lowering taxes.” A year later, Trump made good on that promise by signing a massive tax giveaway to billionaires and corporations into law. In 2018 alone, four top pharmaceutical corporations avoided paying $7 billion in taxes due to Trump’s handout.
Trump’s love affair with big pharma hasn’t ended there. His NAFTA 2.0 trade pact with Mexico and Canada includes provisions written in secret by pharmaceutical lobbyists. These provisions would lock in high drug prices for years to come by extending pharma monopolies.
As currently written, NAFTA 2.0 requires signatory countries to give pharma corporations at least a 10-year monopoly period on biologic drugs, which they often price at over $100,000 per person per year. This is referred to by many cancer patients as a “Death Sentence Clause” because it makes it impossible for them to get more affordable generic medications. NAFTA 2.0 also expands the definition of “biologic” so that more drugs are covered by the monopoly period. Trump is right – Big Pharma is getting away with murder. And he is helping them.
NAFTA 2.0 would make it impossible for Congress to enact the changes needed to lower drug prices. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) has a bill to reduce the current 12-year exclusive monopoly that biologic drugs receive under current U.S. law to five years. But this law would be impossible to pass without violating the terms of NAFTA 2.0.
Trump’s trade pact also gives pharma the opportunity to jack up prices in Mexico, which currently lacks any exclusivity period for biologics, and Canada, which only has eight years. At a time when we need global solidarity to lower drug prices (the British Labor Party’s new Medicines For The Many platform outlines several excellent policy options across international borders), NAFTA 2.0 does exactly the opposite, exporting high U.S. drug prices to other countries and devastating patients across North America. In fact, by making it more likely that provisions protecting pharma monopolies will be included in future trade agreements, it could jack up drug prices for the entire world.
The good news is that there’s still time to strip the pharma giveaways from NAFTA 2.0. The House will be voting on the agreement, likely in the next six weeks. Democrats, who won control of the House on a promise to lower drug prices, must demand the removal of all pharmaceutical provisions from NAFTA 2.0 in return for their support.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the Democrats in Congress are currently working on passing a bill out of the House to take on the pharmaceutical corporations and their army of lobbyists and deliver lower drug prices to all Americans. Speaker Pelosi has made it clear that NAFTA 2.0, as it currently stands, is not passing out of the House. We are optimistic that the Speaker and the entire Democratic Caucus understand that pharmaceutical corporations should not be writing even a single word of our trade agreements.
If Democrats strand strong and get the pharma giveaways removed from NAFTA 2.0, they will prove that they work for voters, not Big Pharma donors. The American people are very clear: We want to take down pharma monopolies, not strengthen them. Seventy percent of voters, including 82 percent of Democrats, 59 percent of Republicans, and 69 percent of independents, support allowing the government to manufacture generic versions of prescription drugs if prices are beyond patients’ ability to pay.
Our country is divided on many issues, but drug pricing isn’t one of them. Americans across the political spectrum are united in our hatred for pharma greed, and our demand for lower drug prices. The lives and health of millions of Americans, and billions more across the globe, are on the line. We can’t let a trade pact with provisions written in secret by pharma lobbyists stand in the way.
NAFTA 2.0 must only become law if all the pharmaceutical provisions are removed. If Donald Trump tries to preserve them on behalf of his Big Pharma donors, Democrats must reject the deal — and tell the people exactly why they did. Trump, and the rest of his party, will pay the price at the polls.
Alex Lawson is Executive Director of Social Security Works and Linda Benesch is communications director for Social Security Works.
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